Child developmental experts warn us that children in present day America are at risk because of being overscheduled with extra-curricular activities. Dr. David Elkind was one of the first to make parents aware of this trend with his book "The Hurried Child", published in 1981. (1.) Since then, books, journal articles and entire conferences have addressed the topic and warnings against over-committing children have been issued. Even well-intentioned home educators sometimes fall into the snare of uncontrolled busyness.

The Research

In researching this topic I found three excellent articles on the subject. One of them was in a column called Raising Kids by Betsy Rubiner in the April 2004 issue of Better Homes & Gardens magazine. (2.) That article featured psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld who co-authored the book The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding The Hyper-Parenting Trap.  His contention is that we as parents are buying into an overly busy lifestyle that is "burning kids out." Dr. Rosenfeld believes that enrolling children in too many activities is a nationwide problem. The same article quotes Dr. William Doherty, coauthor of Putting Family First. He affirms that it is a clear cut case of priorities being out of order and says that "A warm and limit-setting family is the most important element for kids and that requires a lot of time, not time spent running around." He says "Children need time to daydream, to chill out. We’ve reversed it all."

A second article, originally published in Ladies’ Home Journal, was entitled Today’s Overscheduled Kids. (3.) It points out how living in a constant state of stress is a potentially serious health problem for the entire family, but especially for children, who have less skills to cope with stress and fewer choices by which to avoid it. It raises the questionable trend of overstressing toddlers by expecting them to "appreciate Mozart" and learn their ABC’s before they are ready. There is also the unfortunate reality of "too much artificial stimulation and too little interaction with parents and siblings."

A third article by David Elkins, a retired psychology professor at Pepperdine University, appeared in the Jan/Feb 2003 issue of Psychology Today. (4.) He states that "...we might do well by following Aristotle’s adage: everything in moderation. Child experts acknowledge that extra curricular activities can be a positive force in children’s lives, but they also agree that overscheduling can put children at risk." 

As a grandmother of a two year old, I was most impacted by this statement:

"Middle class children in America are so overscheduled that they have almost no ‘nothing time.’ ...Creativity is making something out of nothing, and it takes time for that to happen."

That’s a quote by Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D., a psychologist and professor at The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. Apparently not only is over- scheduling stressful for parents as well as children, but research shows that children need a cushion of leisure time to be creative, to develop their interests and to learn how to think and ask questions.

The Application

These are the warnings from the experts, but how does all this apply to those of us who name the name of Christ and are raising our children to serve in His kingdom? First, shouldn’t we always be willing to look for any truth that we can apply? In this case, if it’s true of many families in America, there is certainly a number of home school families for which this is true as well. Second, by keeping abreast of what plagues families in our society we can specifically take precautions to stave off the effects of overscheduling stress that might threaten our family in the future.

From a positive standpoint, those who have chosen to home school their children have already embraced a good thing. We are doing something that colonial Americans did, and with good results. We have the advantage of so many tools that they did not have: textbooks, the internet, support groups and a plethora of Christian curricula and experts to guide us. We have God’s Word and the Bible software and teachers to explain it and build it into our daily lives.